Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Cooking the Books: Is inflation going to increase? (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Markets were right to be spooked by the threat of rising inflation’ was the headline of an article by Philip Aldrick, Economics Editor of the Times on 15 May. Nowadays the word has come to mean simply ‘an increase in the general level of prices’ (David Smith, Times, 2 June).

Originally, as the word suggests, inflation referred to an over-issue of a paper currency in the sense of printing more than the economy needed for its transactions; in which case the currency depreciated, resulting in a rise in the general price level.

The price of individual products can go up for various reasons such as an increase in paying demand compared to supply or to a fall in productivity. In fact, for most products, the tendency is for their real price to fall due to increasing productivity, though this is masked by the depreciation of the currency causing the money price to rise.

A rise in the general price level is something different. It is a rise that affects all products. The most common cause of this is a depreciation of the currency due to too much being issued. Currently the policy of monetary authorities nearly everywhere is to bring about a rise in the general price level of about 2 percent a year. This is why prices rise continuously from year to year. Inflation already exists; what is worrying some economic commentators is that it might rise above this level.

Over-issuing the currency is not the only reason why the general price level can go up. It can also go up when, as in a boom, the demand for all goods runs ahead of supply as capitalist enterprises seek to make hay while the sun shines, producing more to sell, so increasing the demand for raw materials and labour (it always ends in overproduction and so a fall – a slump –in production),

Something similar is what some economists are expecting to occur when the Covid restrictions are finally removed. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, has written of a ‘move from bounce-back to boom without passing “go”’ (Times, 10 June). Unused consumer purchasing power has built-up because shops have not been fully open and because many people have been working from home, so saving travel and lunch costs. It’s going to be a sellers’ market, where businesses can put up their prices without risking losing customers. As Smith put it with reference to restaurants:
  ‘Businesses are responding logically to the release of pent-up demand. If they can raise prices and restrict the special offers they used to need to attract customers, they will do so.’
Aldrick adds that businesses will also be in a position to pass on increased transport and materials costs:
  ‘In the short term, business will want to raise prices. They could absorb higher costs by squeezing margins, but with more debt to service and many cash-rich households able to pay up, why would they?’
The implicit assumption behind both these comments is that businesses don’t have a free hand but can only increase prices when ‘the market can bear it’. They can’t raise prices above this level (at least not without losing customers) even if taxes, wages or other costs go up. If the market won’t bear it, then they have to let their profit margins be squeezed. On the other hand, if the market will bear it they can increase their price even if their costs haven’t gone up.

What the economists are saying is that, due to the demand built up during the Covid restrictions, the market will be able to bear it and the general price level will rise as a result.

Info War (2021)

Book Review from the July 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History by Ross Caputi, Richard Nil, Donna Mulhearn. Massachusetts Press, 2019.

In 2016, the city of Fallujah in Iraq, with a population of around a third of a million, was utterly destroyed. It was the third time that it had been under sustained military assault as a consequence of the United States’ invasion of that country. This book looks not at the military tactical ‘war porn’ side of these pacifications, but at the human cost, and the ways in which power was inflicted on that city.

A large chunk of the book is spent defending the right of the population of Fallujah to take up arms in resistance to the invading forces. It also spends some time distancing them from the fighters of ISIS (according to the authors, although ISIS fighters were present for the third battle of Fallujah, they had interposed themselves in the conflict, rather than the Fallujans particularly seeking to join the cause of the Islamists).

Some of the details of how the US fought in Fallujah are instructive. The first battle of Fallujah was shaped by classic counter-insurgency problems. The US had laid siege to the city, creating the prospect of a humanitarian disaster (they also blamed insurgents for using the civilians as human shields, despite the fact that the US themselves had locked them in). Pictures beamed around the world meant the battle was one of propaganda as much as bullets.

This can be illustrated by the fact that as part of the second attack coalition forces took control of the hospital, because they considered the staff there to be ‘terrorist sympathisers’ who put out claims of casualty numbers that conflicted with the coalition’s own announcements. Uncontrolled journalists were barred from the zone. They were determined not to lose the image war a second time.

The book spends a great deal of time discussing information warfare, and the supposed firewall between the psyops and info war that US forces use abroad, as compared to the image management they use at home. Given that they specifically chose to treat independent journalists as a war enemy, it is interesting to note that that was precisely the tactic later adopted by the Trump regime as part of its propaganda operations. It is unlikely, to say the least, that the skills and techniques of info war are unlikely to be brought home, especially when the info warriors get demobbed. They note that one Associated Press photographer ended up being held for two years for unstated ‘security’ reasons.

The second battle involved intense bombardment and house to house fighting. Although civilians had been warned to leave, and many did, it’s thought around 50,000 remained, caught in the crossfire. The authors note that the US soldiers themselves didn’t know much about who they were fighting and why, they simply went into the meat grinder, where many died.

After the second battle, the city was in a ruined state, riven with resentment. The largely Sunni city soon became embroiled in the factional tensions the US (and to an extent Iran) were fomenting in Iraq as part of the ongoing struggle for control of the country post-invasion.

As US forces drew down, the Fallujans rebelled again, and this time their struggle was caught up in the battle against ISIS. It was the turn of the Iraqi government to lay siege to the city, and once again, civilians were forced out into camps, and bullets and bombs laid waste to whatever hadn’t been destroyed in previous assaults.

The clearances of the city, the disruption of services – water, electricity, medicine – were a health crisis within a war. The book deals also with the potential fact that the war has led to ongoing health crises, of high infant mortality, birth defects and cancers. The book is even-handed over the precise cause of these observed trends, but clear that they do exist, and must surely be chalked up to the horrors of modern war being inflicted on that delicate system that is modern urban living.
Pik Smeet

Evolution and Revolution. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “New Method” is evolutionist. The “New Method” is reformist. The “New Method” stands above all for legality. In order to fully understand it in all its beauty, in all its power, we must first study its conceptions of evolution, reform, and legal revolution. Let us proceed in this order and commence with evolution.

The partisans of the “New Method”, quite honestly, without doubt, put certain stupidities into the mouths of revolutionists, which naturally appear to them quite in order. The revolutionists, they say, believe that the social revolution will be the result of a coup, a struggle with the police, or, better, to employ the favourite expression of (is it necessary to name the minister?) “the stroke of a magic wand”. The revolutionists are travestied as social magicians or miracle-workers; and the realists of state Socialism — in theory very idealist — never miss an occasion of showing their sovereign contempt for these dreamers of impossible catastrophes. They alone are in complete agreement with modern science, founded on the principle of evolution. The revolutionists are romanticists, Utopians. Has not Bernstein himself said that Marx even was but a common Blanquist?

What is the truth?

Let us first point out that all the great masters of contemporary Socialism, those very men who introduced into it the idea of evolution, and who have in some measure saturated the spirits of man with their ideas, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle, Peter Lavroff, were throughout their entire lives convinced revolutionists. It is an incontrovertible fact, and we will prove it.

The social work of Marx has been compared with that of Darwin in the domain of Nature. In fact, his classic work, the "Manifesto," which alone perhaps, of all books of our time, contains in a small space (some thirty pages) so many great and fertile ideas, develops quite a system of evolution in capitalist society. In the "Manifesto" we see Socialism burst forth, as the very consequence of things, from the very entrails of capitalist society. It is capitalism itself which fashions its own “grave-digger”, the proletariat organised as a class party.

The Manifesto concludes with the ultra-revolutionary declaration which follows:
  “The communists consider it beneath them to cloak their ideas and designs. They declare openly that their end cannot be realised but by the violent destruction of the existing social order. Let the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to gain”.
Here we are very far from the theory “take care to make fear” (“Ayons peur de faire peur”) which has conducted its author to the ministry of commerce. Yet, Marx put to flight all the miracle-workers, all the manufacturers of little projects put forward as so many panaceas guaranteed to save society from the misery of capitalism. It is true that he had not foreseen the project for the participation of socialists in the central power of the bourgeois state, which renders the revolution altogether unnecessary, and, above all, dangerous. A revolutionary party which does not inspire its adversaries with fear is ripe for government. But, it will never “conquer the world”.

The idealist, Peter Lavroff, was in complete agreement with Marx, the materialist, on the question of violent revolution. Throughout all his glorious life he preached the Revolution in the name of reason, “justice and humanity”. He sought to establish scientifically that “every Socialist who thinks logically must be a revolutionist”. And he always added that the Revolution cannot be brought about without violence. Peter Lavroff introduced scientific philosophy into Russia, thus contributing more than anyone else to the overthrow of metaphysical and theological ideas in his country. He was the sworn enemy of miracles, and understood the miracle of social transformation by the word participation.

The partisans of legality are often pleased to quote a Preface of Engels where he traces a magnificent picture of the growth of the Socialist Party during the legal period. But the rascals forget to add that Engels himself protested against the publication, declaring that his ideas had been falsified through the omission of a conclusion containing an affirmation thoroughly revolutionist.

The statement of Marx is likewise invoked, that in England the Revolution could be achieved pacifically and legally. In his preface to the English translation of Capital, Engels, on including the words of his great friend, wrote: “But he never omitted to mention that he doubted very much if the ruling classes in England would ever accede to a pacific and legal revolution” (Capital. Introduction. 1887). Otherwise stated: the revolution will be superfluous if the dominant classes are in humour for committing suicide. It is perfectly evident that Marx, who thoroughly understood the economic condition of England, wished to say nothing more than that all the material and technical conditions were at hand.

In order to accomplish the Revolution nothing was wanted but the revolutionary lever. “Force is the midwife of every new society”. The pains and violence of birth cannot be overlooked on the grounds that the embryo should be allowed to develop in an easy and regular manner. One might as well overlook volcanic eruptions on considering that modern geology has abandoned the catastrophic theory of the formation of the earth. The new-born will develop pacifically, “legally”, but he comes into being revolutionary. The subterranean forces accumulate slowly, invisibly, but once arrived at a certain degree of intensity, they explode. “Revolutions in history are as necessary as tempests in nature”, writes Malon, whom our good evolutionists do not qualify as “sectary”. In truth, this class of “tempest” does not agree with ministerial combinations. But, since when do the phenomena of nature and history rest on the decrees of ministers, being “out of control”.

In 1887 at the Congress of Saint-Gall, Bebel, who of course is nothing but a romantic dreamer, declared:
“He who says that the final end of Socialism will be realised in a pacific manner does not know the final end, or, mocks us”.
Further. It is only during its scientific period that, based on the principle of evolution, Socialism becomes revolutionary. The great Utopians, Fourier, Owen, Saint-Simon were pacific in their methods. They preached the social transformation to make the “revolution” needless.

It was exactly at the time that the social reformers addressed the monarchs, assembled at Aix-la-Chapelle, soliciting their “Collaboration” in social reform in the name of “social conservation”. That was also the good old time when the noble dreamer Fourier used to look daily for his “millionaire”, pacific redeemer of suffering humanity.

The triumph of the truly realistic spirit was at the same time that of the revolutionary spirit. None but empiric minds who see no farther than the tips of their noses or who have some interest in cloaking historic truth, believe that revolution is contrary to evolution of which it is, in reality, only the fatal and irresistible outcome. Thus, the Utopian period of Socialism was pacific. The scientific period adopts revolutionary tactics.

Ferdinand Lassalle, who was the promoter of universal suffrage in Germany, a man of immediate action and pacific par excellence, recognised the revolution as a means of achieving any serious reform. He pointed out that many great reforms were brought about only by revolution. For him, as well as for every modern Socialist, revolution is but a moment, a period of crisis in the “normal” evolution of society, an evolution which comes to a head.

The abyss which our ministerialists seek to find between evolution and revolution under its sudden and violent form exists but in their imagination. But there exists an insuperable abyss between revolution and ministerialism.

Translated from the French of Charles Rappoport by P. J. Tobin

Books and Booklets.(1905)

Barnes (second from left) in 1906,
with other Labour Fakirs
Book Review from the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Old Age Pensions By Mr. George Barnes, Secretary to the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.

In view of the fact that the average age of the working-class at death is about 30 years, the possibility of attaining to the opulence represented in the sum of 5s. per week 35 years after they have on the average shuffled off this mortal coil, would not, at the first glance, appear to be a matter of vital concern to ordinary wage slaves. Closer examination, however, shows that through some incomprehensible oversight of a beneficent capitalist providence, a considerable number of workers do manage to escape death in mine, factory, or workshop, or by starvation and other “natural causes,” and arrive at the stage of the sere and yellow with vitality sufficient to pump a thin stream of thinner blood through the channels that 65 years of hard living have not entirely clogged or shrivelled, and to maintain that flicker of energy necessary to hold the various portions of their bodies in something approaching their original form.

The precise number who achieve this great age is very uncertain, but Mr. Barnes feels justified in putting it down in round figures as one million. For these he proposes, with that “mystic insight” into, and “ fine judgment” of, the requirements of the aged worker which his biographer (in the same pamphlet) so highly applauds as elements most needed in a labour aspirant to a decrepid legislature, that the State should provide a pension of 5s. per week. As the cost of the keep of a pauper in a workhouse averages 9s. to 10s. per week in the country, and much more than that in London, it will be seen that the proposal does not err on the side of extravagance.

How the worker is expected to live upon such a munificent stipend, at an age when he is unable to wrestle with the scrag-of-mutton diet of his more vigorous days, Mr. Barnes does not explain. That they cannot live upon it he, parenthetically, appears to recognise. That they cannot augment the sum by thrift during their earlier years, for the very sufficient reason that any margin that they may have had in the course of their history was invariably on the wrong side—he admits. Then how are they to live, except indeed, in the way that Mr. Barnes appears to suggest, viz., by their children (if they have any) taking their pensioned parents in and catering for them at cheap rates—a fatuous suggestion, surely, in view of the general inability of the children to keep themselves.

Indeed and indeed, these “Labour leaders” in travail give birth to some of the most petty-fogging and inconsequential schemes that mind of man ever conceived. And to get his old age starvation allowance Mr. Barnes, says will necessitate the thorough organisation of labour upon a political basis. By that means alone he holds, can the essential steam be got up behind the demand. The folly of it! To get the working-class to concentrate upon a measure that not one in thirty will ever live to be affected by in the hope that those who do may secure a reward of 5s. a week upon which to starve! “As through a glass darkly” Mr. Barnes seems to see that only by fighting can the working-class achieve anything at all. Does he not understand that this implies that the capitalist-class will concede nothing except through fear? Does he not see, therefore, that the concession will be in proportion to the demand? Then why does he endeavour to fritter away the energies of the working-class upon a tuppenny-ha’penny old age pension scheme, when the workers can be just as easily organised upon the basis of their class interests and their energies directed to the demand for the full results of their labour? Educate the workers to a knowledge of their position and the reasons for it; to a recognition of the complete and irreconcilable opposition of interest existing between them and the capitalist-class, and to the extent that they grow in class-consciousness, to the extent that their forces are welded into an intelligent whole, to the extent to which they thereby develope into a formidable menace to capitalist interests, to that extent will the fear of the capitalist grow, to that extent will old age pensions and similar sops be offered by affrighted capitalism in an endeavour to stay working-class progress towards the Co-operative Commonwealth. As it is, Mr. Barnes is simply playing the capitalists’ game by keeping the working-class mind occupied with non-essentials.
A. J. M. Gray.

The International Socialist Bureau. (1905)

Notice from the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The International Socialist Bureau desires to call attention to the following publications relative to the International Congresses which can be obtained at the Maison du People, Brussels, and at all the best booksellers:
  • The International Socialist Congresses: Agendas, lists of delegates, resolutions, Paris, 1889; Brussels, 1891; Zurich, 1893; London, 1896; Paris, 1900 . . . (0.75 Frs.)
  • The International Socialist Congress of Amsterdam, 1904. Agenda and texts of resolutions, offered in three languages . . . (0.25 Frs.)
  • Reports and resolutions submitted on the questions in the Agenda of the International Socialist Congress, Amsterdam, 1904 . . . (1.00 Frs.)
  • Resolutions in three languages on the questions submitted in the Agenda of the International Socialist Congress, Amsterdam, 1904 . . . (0.50 Frs.)
  • The Socialist and Working-Class Organisation in Europe, America, and Asia with a supplement. The volume, of more than 500 Pages, contains the reports of the various Socialist Parties of the whole world on the political and trade-unionist movement from the Paris Congress of 1900 to the Amsterdam Congress of 1904 . . . (3.75 Frs.)
The number of copies of these publications on hand being very limited, it is particularly requested that all those who desire to obtain copies should do so at the earliest possible moment.

All orders must be accompanied by remittances made out in the name of Camille Huysmans.

The offices of the Bureau have been transferred to the Maison du Peuple, Brussels, and in order to avoid any delay all correspondence (letters, reviews, newspapers, etc ) should be forwarded to the following address: "The International Socialist Bureau, Maison du Peuple, rue Joseph Stevens, Brussels.”

SPGB Open-Air Meetings. (1905)

Party News from the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fetter Lane, London. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard 

In an office in Fetter Lane, London, a machine is now being exhibited by the inventor, Mr. George Livingston Richards, which does the work of hundreds of men. In the course of an hour it folds up thousands of magazines, puts them in gummed wrappers, addresses each one to the person for whom it is intended, and sorts them out into sacks, according to the locality to which they have to be sent.

Ethics and the class struggle. (1905)

From the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the middle-class “Socialists” who run the so-called labour movement in this country, it is hardly fashionable just now to deny the reality of the class struggle; yet when it is shown how necessary it is to base working-class political action on that reality, these Utopians wriggle like eels to escape such a logical conclusion. When driven by argument from their objections on practical grounds to the class war basis, such sentimentalists often fall back on the assertion that it is immoral, that it stirs up strife and sets one class against another.

Now, with those who profess to base their “Socialism” on the New Testament, such a position is not to be wondered at; for to them the injunction applies, to “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”– Matt. V. Obviously, the only logical attitude for such people is that of absolute non-resistance to the capitalists. And there the working-class may leave them.
As is only to be expected, the capitalist and his satellites strongly deprecate any hostile attitude on the part of the worker. The proper conduct of the working-class should be, according to capitalist ethics, duly sheep-like. According to this code, working men should be thrifty (that they may work cheaply and keep off the rates), they should be industrious (that they may pile up wealth for others), and above all, they should be meek and obedient (that they may duly obey the laws kindly made for them by their masters). The prevailing code of ethics has its foundation in the material interests of the ruling class, and may be summed up in the words, “Whatever injures capitalist interests is immoral.”  The charge that the class struggle is immoral is founded on such a code. For us, then, it is necessary to look at the matter from a higher standpoint, that we may see whether an insistence on the class struggle is immoral or not in the light of humanity’s interests.
What is the basis of the modern class antagonism? It is based on the fact that one section of society owes its income and its superior position to property, to the ownership of the means of producing wealth; whilst another section, so vast as to be practically the nation, owes its inferior position to the fact that it owns no property but is compelled to live by the sale of its labour-power to those who own the means of life. Out of the total product of labour the worker cannot obtain, in general, more than his cost of subsistence. Those who own the instruments of labour appropriate the rest. Thus there is born a class struggle, pursued consistently by the capitalists, but, as yet, ineffectively and spasmodically by the workers. The scientific Socialist urges a more consistent waging of this struggle because (to put it shortly) only by the defeat of the enemy can peace be obtained.
All classes will, as in the past, fight bitterly to retain their superior position to the workers’. The only class that can be relied on for the abolition of privilege and power to exploit, is the unprivileged propertyless working-class. The recognition of the class struggle is consequently the only effective basis of working-class action, for it is childish indeed to expect that the capitalists will of their own accord get off the backs of the workers. Obviously, the immediate interests of all except the working-class are opposed to the abolition of private property in the means of life.
The strife of today is, then, not created by the Socialist, but is the result of economic conditions maintained by the ruling class. The Socialist seeks to enlighten his fellows on the causes of this struggle, and to show how utterly futile it is to expect the owning class to abolish the cause of strife, or abandon in any way its own interests. He wishes to point out above all, that since the interests of all sections of the capitalist-class are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the workers, therefore the sane policy of the working-class must be in consistent opposition to all capitalist political factions however these may name themselves. The struggle is already going on. The Socialist endeavours to give it definite and consistent aim, that the conflict may the more speedily end.

Those who would, on moral grounds, have the workers refuse to recognise the class struggle should, to be logical, refuse to struggle against parasites of any other kind. For in society the class which lives by the ownership of the means of life of the workers is a parasitic class, sucking to itself by its monopoly the fruits of the industry of the people. Not, indeed, that one need hate the individual capitalist, for he is the product of his circumstances; but in the interests of toiling humanity the firmest action must be taken. The power to exploit must be wrested from the parasites. They will, of course, oppose this by cunning and by force and will have to be fought, for non-resistance is the policy of the weak-minded.

Clearly then, the cause of the present struggle (i.e., the private ownership of the machinery of wealth production and distribution), can only be abolished by waging war on the class which defends and maintains private ownership. And since the only class that, by its material interests, is unfettered to the maintenance of private property is the proletariat, on this class must fall the toil and the battle for freedom.
Thus the only means of ridding mankind of conditions which now bind the mass in degradation and slavery, is the active opposition of the workers to the parasitic class as a whole; and what is this but the prosecution of the class war?

The victory of the Socialist working-class is the only possible ending of this great struggle. This, however, does not mean the subjection of the capitalist-class by the workers; it means the abolition of capitalism and an end of classes, for the great unprivileged masses cannot secure equality of opportunity without abolishing class privilege, and privilege is based on private property. The triumph of the great working majority thus involves the emancipation of all from class oppression, for the interests of the toiling masses are fundamentally the interest of humanity.

The workers are now the only necessary class in society, and upon them all tasks are devolving. To the capitalist remains the task of tearing the coupons from his shares, and reaping the reward of his abstinence – from labour.
The democratic ownership of the means of wealth production must necessarily abolish the economic basis of classes and of class antagonisms, and unite all in a bond of labour with identical interests, Under such conditions it must be unnecessary and above all unprofitable for the vast majority to exploit a few. Hence society will have but one aim, to lighten the toil and increase the well-being of all by the greatest possible economy of labour and life. In the society of harmonised material interests that must result from the abolition of class parasitism, the greatest well-being of the individual will only be possible by promoting the well-being of all. Thus will the welfare of all become, for the first time, the immediate interest of each.

Socialism is, then, the ethics of humanity, the necessary economic foundation of a rational code of morality. The interests of the human race are bound up with the aspirations of the oppressed working-class in its struggle with capitalist domination. As it has very truly been said: “Militant, the workers’ cause is identified with class; triumphant, with humanity.”
F. C. Watts